On Oct. 15, Tech police discovered a suspicious package in the Klaus Advanced Computing Building. The recipient professor received the package under unusual circumstances and called the police to check for any potential dangers. While police found the package to be harmless and full of cookies, the circumstances that led to the package’s arrival remain bizarre.
“These [investigation] processes are never completed in a quick time. It’s a very deliberate process for the safety of the community and the responders. We’re going to take any kind of threat seriously,” said Andy Altizer, Director of Emergency Preparedness at the Georgia Tech Police Department (GTPD).
The professor who received the packaged had been in correspondence with a student from the University of Tehran for about two years. He communicated with the student through email and Facebook. The student found him through his research and began sending him emails asking for feedback on his own work.
“There was some communication between the professor and a student from another country,” Altizer said.
When the professor failed to respond, the student sent more emails asking why the professor would not talk with him, and whether he still liked him. The emails became progressively stranger, and the student began writing about how he had discovered time travel and was currently researching with Albert Einstein. He also asked the professor if he would like to be a keynote speaker at the University of Tehran. The professor declined the invitation. At this point the professor ceased communication with the student.
The professor received a package on Oct. 12. He placed it in his office and went on an out-of-town trip, before returning to Tech on Oct. 15. Upon returning, he discovered that it was sent by the Iranian student and called the police. Since the package had cleared U.S. Customs, the U.S. Postal Service and was somewhat crushed, the police decided that there was no explosive threat. However, the envelope inside had a white powder coating, fueling suspicions of a threat.
The Atlanta Fire Department, FBI Bomb Squad, Atlanta SWAT and Homeland Security among others arrived at the scene. After evacuating the building and securing the hallways, they analyzed the package with a portable X-ray machine only to discover that it actually contained cookies and that the white powder was merely sugar. Students were allowed to return to the building at around 12:25 p.m.
“These things take a long time to resolve. The first responders’ safety is a priority as well. Every now and then someone will call in about an unattended bag or a backpack in an unusual place. We’ll periodically get those. One that warrants a full response from Hazmat or the bomb squad is rare, but they do happen,” Altizer said.
There was a previous incident at the end of this past summer where a suspicious device was found in a common room that was later discovered to be a rust cleaning tool.
“What warrants calling the police is if [students] get any kind of package and if it has a threat associated with it. If there’s something that says the package is going to harm them, they need to call us,” Altizer said.